Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration (Nintendo Switch) Review

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Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration
Developer: Digital Eclipse,
Publisher: Atari
Played On: Nintendo Switch
Genre: Arcade
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
MSRP: 39.99
Release Date: 11/11/2022
CGM Editors Choice

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. It drives gamers to seek out the past for simpler, easier times before focus on graphics and the ‘next big thing’ gripped the entire industry, instead of focusing on what just looks better. Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration throws the player in a time capsule and slams the door, transporting the person behind the sticks to simpler times. All before the latest GPUs and ray tracing were even thought of. A celebration of the past, dripping in wistful and affectionate groundbreaking titles that are cornerstones in gaming history.

The Atari 50 collection aims to drag its player on a trip through the maw of gaming history, from a single company’s standpoint, very much like 2015’s Rare Replay. Except this title places a larger focus on the historical aspect. There are two different ways to jump into Atari 50: you can either go the timeline route, where there are five different time periods, or simply press Y to scroll through the huge gaming library on offer.

Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration does a fantastic job of disguising its game collection identity as an Atari history encyclopedia, but it’s hard to decipher which it really is considering both moving parts work well together. As someone who is fascinated by history and the evolution of the gaming industry, this is a fantastic way to learn about Atari’s roots in an entertaining way. Although this celebration does function as a momentous history lesson, it’s a fun one.

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The timeline route not only has game releases and huge milestones accomplished in the industry, but each panel with a game cover art can be played outright straight from the timeline without loading. Backstage passes are provided to dive inside the great minds behind one of the most influential companies in gaming history.

Tod Frye, a former Atari Game Programmer confessed in one of the timeline videos offered through the history segment that his Atari office was a haven for pot smoking. “We would just fire up right in the office!” he said with a look of pure nostalgic glee, but the same can be said about the entire celebration, nostalgic glee at its finest. But now let’s talk about the games, and it’s apparent Digital Eclipse put emphasis on including MANY of the Atari 2600’s library here.

All titles on the Atari 50 Celebration play perfectly, I can even say they play far more consistently and overall better than the originals.

There is a huge library of titles on Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration, with Arcade titles, the Atari 2600, the 5200, the 7800, the handheld Lynx, my favourite system of the bunch the Atari Jaguar—although it is missing the signature ROAR startup screen, which is a huge bummer—and even the computer-looking Atari 800. Apparently, the console numbers still don’t make sense, as the 800 came after the bigger numbers, and Atari randomly decided to give up the numbers altogether in place of wild cat names near the end of its console run.

There are some bangers on the Atari 50 game collection, with possibly a top five Atari title in Tempest 2000, which I consider to be the prehistoric version of Geometry Wars. Without thinking, I spent a large amount of time on Tempest 2000 just like when I first played it back in 1996, chaotic arcade goodness at its finest. There are also Atari staples that play excellently as ports with Asteroids, Missile Command, the Atari 2600 sports series of games, and a personal old school favourite Crystal Castles.

“There are also six games inserted by Digital Eclipse, and these are possibly the best titles on Atari 50…”

Each come fully equipped with menu options to adjust the control mapping on the fly, and the instruction manuals in all their glory—including typos—can be viewed at any time. Players can even save their progress from the select button menu and leave titles at the drop of a hat to play other titles in the collection without missing a beat. The attention to detail cannot be understated, this collection was made with 50 years of care and thought.

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There are also six games inserted by Digital Eclipse, and these are possibly the best titles on Atari 50, the Reimagined series versions of hit Atari titles including: Haunted Houses, Neo Breakout, Quadratank, Swordquest: AirWorld, VCTR-SCTR, and Yars’ Revenge Enhanced. These feature stark gameplay improvements, a heavy increase on framerate and graphical enhancements, while staying as true as possible to the source material.

I was able to have a couple of friends over to play Quadratank with, and it was excellent fun, but it’s super easy to see where the game terminology ‘tank controls’ came from. Rolling around is tedious, but a great time once you get the hang of it. Battling the little tanks with upgrades, capture the flag modes, and seamless response rates is a lot more fun than advertised.

Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration does a fantastic job of disguising its game collection identity as an Atari history encyclopedia…”

All titles on the Atari 50 Celebration play perfectly, I can even say they play far more consistently and overall better than the originals. Nintendo Switch’s Online Expansion Pass can take a few notes from how these ports were achieved, as the choppy framerates on certain expansion titles can be vastly improved if these older titles can play seamlessly without issue. There are even a few ‘unreleased prototypes’ in the collection, including unlockable games hidden behind certain accomplishments in other titles. These cryptic riddles to solve can be interesting and a fun way to add replay value, but I have a bone to pick with the library choices.

There are two versions of Scrapyard Dog, the one on the Lynx and the one for the 7800, as well as other duplicates like Basketbrawl, and although Missile Command is a banger, there are three identical feeling versions here. These are classic titles for sure, but there is no need to have duplicates of the same title with small differences on the collection, unless the goal is to compare the differences between arcade versions and console versions. It is notable that what I can consider to be the first ever made ‘definitive editions’ with titles like Missile Command on the 5200 as opposed to the 2600 version, but it would’ve been better to include more variety instead of primitive remasters. There are quite a few titles with three-peats.

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This is the worst thing about Atari 50, the AWOL classics in lieu of game repeats. Zool and its sequel Zool 2, while not reinventions of the platforming wheel, are missing in action. I could’ve even gone through the frenzied mess that was Attack of the Mutant Penguins, and my favourite Atari title, Brutal Sports Football (while not personally developed by Atari) is completely missing. Even the closest port of the original Doom for PC—which was ported to the Jaguar without music—is nowhere to be found.

Also, it’s worth mentioning the add-on for the Jaguar, the Jaguar CD, is mentioned, but it’s very small library isn’t found anywhere either. This could be because the add-on was a commercial failure, but the Jaguar and the CD peripheral are severely expensive now, and a few of the titles could’ve landed to allow gamers who have no experience with the CD a chance to play it. The missing classics truly hurt the overall value of the collection, but the history lesson Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration delivers touches all the right notes and strikes all the right nostalgia chords to be a solid entry to any gamer’s shelf looking to time travel.

Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is a well-developed and solid collection of dynamite ports of gaming history ported to the handheld Nintendo Switch with a true boatload of content. The collection stays fully faithful true to the originals and listening to interviews of some of the most influential gaming figures is an experience worth having. The redundancy of including the same titles with small differences multiple times, waters down an otherwise worthy collection with space that could have been better used on a larger variety of titles, like the Rare Replay collection of 2015.

A retail version of the game reviewed was provided by the publisher. You can read more about CGMagazine reivew policies here.

Final Thoughts

REVIEW SCORE

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